Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mobile Men, Stories on Human Rights in Worldwide Short Film Festival

Stories on Human Rights, which includes Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Mobile Men, will screen at the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto.

I had a chance to view all 22 films in the United Nations/European Union omnibus last month in a screening in Bangkok with Apichatpong present at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. It's a strong package. Here's what I had to say about Mobile Men:

Mobile Men features the filmmaker operating the camera himself, riding in the back of a pickup truck as it speeds down the highway with two other men. One of the men is a taciturn soul, a Thai-Yai man, who points to his Converse canvas shoes and other articles of clothing. Then another man grabs the lens of the camera, and he steals the show -- a guy from Surin in Northeast Thailand who becomes increasingly bold about showing off his tattoos, finally whipping off his shirt, and putting the microphone that had been taped to his chest on his elaborately inked left shoulder while he screams to illustrate how painful getting the tattoo was. But all you can hear is the wind whipping past.

You can watch the shorts at ART for the World's YouTube channel, but there's something to be said for watching the whole compilation in one go with an audience.

Interestingly, Apichatpong's short wasn't the only one from Southeast Asia -- Serbian filmmaker Marina Abramovic went to Luang Prabang, Laos, to make Dangerous Games, about schoolchildren in military uniform, shooting each other with toy guns. It's one of the more entertaining and poignant shorts in the lineup. Watch it. I've embedded it below.

The Worldwide Short Film Festival runs from June 16 to 21. Stories on Human Rights screens on the closing day.

(Via Twitch)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Praise for Nymph

Nearly a week in the aftermath of the Cannes Film Festival, word is continuing to trickle back from France about Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph (Nang Mai) -- the only Thai film in the festival's "Official Selection".

The story of an urban couple ("Gybzy" Wanida Termthanaporn and "Peter" Nopachai Jayanama) who go to the jungle in an effort to sort out their troubled marriage, Nymph competed in the Un Certain Regard program, and was met with discouragingly tepid reviews.

So it's heartening to find that there's critics who have some positive things to say about Nymph.

Eric Lavallee of Ion Cinema was most taken by the film's opening -- "one continuous technically difficult long-take, around 10-plus minutes in runtime." He posted a short review -- "it is nature and not humans calling the shots" -- and then included it among The Top 10 Best Scenes from Cannes, hailing it for "explor[ing] the mysterious nature of the film's key location."

The Telegraph also has a mini review:

A word for Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nang Mai which screened in Un Certain Regard: it's an exquisitely photographed and sound-recorded drift through the Thai jungle in which a young couple whose relationship is troubled find themselves returning to a huge, veiny, sap-oozing true.

The director claimed the film is about a love affair between them and the tree. He also urged anyone who didn't understand this opaque but mesmerizing work to e-mail him.

I see from checking the film's website that the Thai release date has been moved up a day to Wednesday July 1, so Pen-ek can start checking his inbox a bit earlier.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Duelling Naks

Nat Myria Benedetti, left, and Teeranai na Nongkai.
Battling ghosts seem to be a theme this year.

Within a month of each other, two theater companies in Bangkok are staging musicals based on the popular Mae Nak Phra Khanong ghost story.

First off the blocks is Mae Nak Phra Khanong: The Musical, which has opened at the Muang Thai Rachadalai Theatre. Apparently, there was such a high demand for tickets, that the show was extended by three weeks. It's now running until June 21.

This is a production by Scenario and directed Takonkiat Viravan, the entertainment titan who is responsible for a ton of popular TV soap operas. It stars Nat Myria Benedetti as the ghost wife Nak.

In July, the Dreambox company will stage Mae Nak the Musical at the M Theatre. This production is directed by Daraka Wongsiri and it stars Teeranai na Nongkai.

Scenario's production has been reviewed by the Bangkok Post's Alongkorn Pravudhiphongs. Here's an excerpt (cache):

Gleefully, on its debut last week, the ghostly show tune kept its promise by offering stage spectacles full of spine-chilling and magical moments, an emotional joyride that ran between horror, romance and laughter, and star magnets that came with acting and singing talents. Takonkiet Viravan's seventh musical is indeed a fun and memorable experience for those who wish to be scared and then scream.

Despite such theatrical excitement throughout the 150-minute performance, what I found missing, however, were the subtle moments that would allow me, and probably other audiences, to enter in the head and sink into the hearts of the lead characters due to fast-forward-like pace and disproportionate libretto.

Influenced by TV-editing style, the pace was quite speedy and overwhelmed by many stories. Nak and Mak's romance and hardship -- her accidental death during child labour, her resurrection, the reunion between the two, Mak's revelation and Nak's vengeance (phew!) -- were swiftly recounted in a 90-minute packed timeframe.

I should probably see it, having seen at least four films of this tale -- Nonzee Nimibutr's 1999 drama Nang Nak, Mark Duffield's The Ghost of Mae Nak from 2005, last year's animated adventure, and even the live-dubbed 1958 version. And after all, the Scenario musical has English supertitles.

Meanwhile, Daily Xpress theatre correspondent Pawit Mahasarinand offered a preview of the forthcoming Dreambox production. Director Daraka promises to tell the story from Nak's point of view and try to explain why she was so full of rage -- something filmmaker Pimpaka Towira did in her debut short film, which I'd like to see someday. Here's something I didn't know about the character:

Nak, born into a well-to-do family in Ayutthaya, eloped to Phra Khanong with Mak, a lower-class man.

"She became a fish out of water," Daraka points out. "It was a major conflict that incited the whole series of horrific events, but it's never been explored by any of the films or plays about her."

Reading between the lines of Ajarn Pawit's preview, something tells me he isn't too keen on the rival Scenario show:

Loud applause greeted a sneak preview of five memorable scenes for the press last week. This production is set to exceed our expectations. After so many versions of the tale over half a century, it will still be compelling to see another.

Realistic drama overshadows supernatural horror, and the lyrics and music serve the story rather than the pop chart.

I don't know if Pawit has written a review of the other musical yet. Perhaps that was just it.

The Dreambox show runs from July 3 to 19. Tickets are on sale now.

Happy Birthday tops Star Entertainment Awards

The Star Entertainment Awards for 2008 were held last night at Siam Paragon, with Happy Birthday the big winner with four awards: best film, best actor for Ananda Everingham, best director for Pongpat Wachirabunjong and best screenplay for Kongdej Jaturanrasamee.

Best actress was Mai Charoenpura for the psychological thriller Memory.

And the best supporting actor and actress prizes were repeats from earlier awards shows: Sorapong Chatree for Ong-Bak 2 and Focus Jirakul for Hormones.

Here's a list of awards and nominees:

Best Film
  • Winner: Happy Birthday
    • Wonderful Town
    • Rak/Sam/Sao
    • Ong-Bak 2
    • 4Bia

Best Screenplay
  • Winner: Happy Birthday
    • Wonderful Town
    • Rak/Sam/Sao
    • 4Bia
    • Sabaidee Luang Prabang

Best Actor
  • Winner: Ananda Everingham for Happy Birthday
    • “Pe” Arak Amornsupasiri for Rak/Sam/Sao
    • Tony Jaa for Ong-Bak 2
    • Joey Boy for Luang Pee Teng 2
    • “Tui” Kiatkamol Latha for Handle Me With Care (Kod)

Best Actress
  • Winner: Mai Charoenpura for Memory
    • Chayanan Manomaisantiphap for Happy Birthday
    • "Jeeja" Yanin Vismistananda for Chocolate
    • “Koy” Ratchawin Wongviriya for Rak/Sam/Sao
    • Jarunee Suksawat for Queens of Langkasuka

Best Supporting Actor
  • Winner: Sorapong Chatree for Ong-Bak 2
    • Pongpat Wachirabunjong for Chocolate
    • Santisuk Promsiri for Boonchu 9
    • Kiat Kitcharoen for Dream Team
    • Eak Oree for Queens of Langkasuka

Best Supporting Actress
  • Winner: Focus Jirakul for Hormones (Pidterm Yai Huajai Wawun)
    • Jintara Sukapat for Boonchu 9
    • Noon Siraphun Wattanajinda for Neung Jai Dieow Gan (Where the Miracle Happens)
    • “Peak” Patarasaya Krousuwansiri for Rak/Sam/Sao
    • Naowarat Yuktanan for Sapai Bareu (Ghost-in-Law)

Best Director
  • Winner: Pongpat Wachirabunjong for Happy Birthday
    • Nonzee Nimibutr for Queens of Langkasuka
    • Tony Jaa for Ong-Bak 2
    • Songyos Sugmakanan for Hormones
    • Yuthlert Sippapak for Rak/Sam/Sao
Best Costume
  • Winner: Queens of Langkasuka

Best Makeup
  • Winner: 4Bia

Best Soundtrack
  • Winner: Hormones

The Honorary award went to veteran actor Seetao Petrajayrin.

"Media Darling" awards went to singer-actor Film Rattapoom Tokongsrub and actress ”Aff” Taksaorn Paksukcharean

Awards are also given for television and music. Lyn's Lakorns has the full rundown.

Via Lyn's Lakorns, Kapook, Sanook, Wikipedia Thailand)

Any comments?

I have a couple of things to say about comments on this blog.

First, a few readers have e-mailed me saying they made comments on the blog, but their comments never appeared. It thought it was pretty odd, because I hadn't seen their comments in my moderation queue, and I do moderate all comments.

Then yesterday Bangkok Pundit posted about problems with comments on that blog. So it might be a glitch with Google's Blogger service. BP suggests you compose your comment on Notepad or a similar program and then copy-paste your words into the comment box.

Or, you can e-mail me your comments and I'll post them or make note of them in an update.

Second, I am generally starting to view anonymous comments with disdain, especially the comments that say no more than "this film sucks", which don't really benefit anyone. If the anonymous commentators can go into detail as to why they think the film sucks, that would be a big help and make for more interesting reading.

As always, if you have a general comment about the blog or Thai cinema, or want to give me a news tip, you can e-mail me at the address shown in the right sidebar. There is also my FAQs, which answer a lot of questions about this blog and why I'm doing what I'm doing, about Thai films and about Thai films on DVD, which answers questions about "where can I get this film with English subtitles?" - another frequent anonymous comment.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Tribute to Chatrichalerm Yukol in the Week of Siam

The third monthly Week of Siam film series starts on Thursday at House cinema on Royal City Avenue with "A Tribute to Chatrichalerm Yukol", celebrating the early career and social-realism films of MC Chatrichalerm.

Two will have English subtitles, 1990's Song of Chao Phya (Nong Mia) and 1978's Kama.

Song of Chao Phya is a family drama that examines the obstacles faced by poor folks who want to climb the social strata. Passorn "Honey" Bunyakiat stars as a woman who lives on a sand barge, and she's weary of her family's nomadic existence, always on the move on the Chao Phya River on their sand barge. One day she gets off the boat. She is taken to a beauty salon by a taxi driver who promises she can be a movie star. The woman's husband (Chatchai Plengpanich) searches high and low all over Bangkok. Meanwhile, it's the woman's titular youngster sister (Pattamawan Khaomoolkadee) who's left behind on the barge to take care of the couple's children and the family business. Song of Chao Phya can also be seen on DVD with English subtitles, but surely the film print that House will be showing will be better than the poorly "remastered" discs of Than Mui's films.

I've not seen Kama. The title means sex or lust, and it's about a lonely young woman who develops a friendship with an artist (Manop Assawathep) who everyone thinks is insane. Because the artist's works deal in eroticism, and because the girls mother (Piatip Kumwong) is a porn star, his relationship with the girl is misjudged by society.

Other films will include the gritty action dramas The Colonel (one of my favorites, starring Sompop Benjatikul), Gunman with Sorapong Chatree, in which Than Mui beats Platoon and Oliver Stone to the punch in left-behind-by-the-helicopter war drama, and the Stirling Silliphant-scripted Salween, the Burmese border-war story that Sylvester Stallone essentially remade as Rambo 4.

There's romance in the original 1975 version of Last Love (not the 2003 remake), the controversial tale of civil-service corruption and indifference in 1973's Kao Cheu Karn as well as Than Mui's first feature, the crazy sci-fi Out of the Darkness.

Here is the schedule:

Thursday, May 28
  • 13.00 – The Colonel (Pom Mai Yak Pen Pan To, ผม ไม่ อยาก เป็น พันโท), 1974 (film)
  • 16.00 – Dr. Karn (Khao Chue Karn, เขา ชื่อ กานต์), 1973 (film)
  • 19.00 – The Yellowing of the Sky (Ooga fa leuang, อุกาฟ้าเหลือง), 1980 (film)

Friday, May 29
  • 13.00 – Gunman (Meu Peun, มือปืน), 1983 (film)
  • 16.00 – Salween (สาละ วิน, also Gunman 2), 1993 (film)
  • 19.00 – Song of Chao Phya (Nong Mia, น้องเมีย), 1990 (film, with English subtitles)

Saturday, May 30

  • 13.00 – Dr. Karn (Kao Cheu Karn, เขา ชื่อ กานต์), 1973 (film)
  • 16.00 – The Yellowing of the Sky (Ooga fa leuang, อุกาฟ้าเหลือง), 1980 (film)
  • 19.00 – The Colonel (Pom Mai Yak Pen Pan To, ผม ไม่ อยาก เป็น พันโท), 1974 (film)

Sunday, May 31
  • 13.00 – Kama (กาม), 1989 (with English subtitles)
  • 16.00 – Out of the Darkness (Mun Ma Kub Kwam Muedman, มัน มา กับ ความมืด), 1971 (film)
  • 19.00 – Last Love (Kwam Rak Krang Suthai, ความรัก ครั้งสุดท้าย), 1975

Monday, May 1
  • 13.00 – Salween (สาละ วิน, also Gunman 2), 1993 (film)
  • 16.00 – Song of Chao Phya (Nong Mia, น้องเมีย), 1990 (film, with English subtitles)
  • 19.00 – Gunman (Meu Peun, มือปืน), 1983 (film)

Tuesday, May 2
  • 13.00 – The Colonel (Pom Mai Yak Pen Pan To, ผม ไม่ อยาก เป็น พันโท), 1974 (film)
  • 16.00 – Kama (กาม), 1989 (with English subtitles)
  • 19.00 – Out of the Darkness (Mun Ma Kub Kwam Muedman, มัน มา กับ ความมืด), 1971 (film)

Wednesday, May 3
  • 13.00 – Song of Chao Phya (Nong Mia, น้องเมีย), 1990 (film, with English subtitles)
  • 16.00 – Dr. Karn (Khao Chue Karn, เขา ชื่อ กานต์), 1973 (film)
  • 19.00 – The Yellowing of the Sky (Ooga fa leuang, อุกาฟ้าเหลือง), 1980 (film)

As I've mentioned before, many of Than Mui's older films are available on rather poorly "remastered" DVDs with English subtitles. These include The Colonel, Gunman, Salween, Dr. Karn, Out of the Darkness and Song of Chao Phya. Other Chatrichalerm works on DVD include The Elephant Keeper (Khon Liang Chang) , Citizen 2, Hotel Angel (Thep Thida Rong Raem), Khru Somsri, Daughter (Sia Dai), Daughter 2 and Powder Road. The titles are out of print, but can still be found in some Mangpong outlets.

For the House screenings, the films will be shown as noted, and so are probably worth a look just for the kinetic experience that isn't possible with a DVD home viewing.

Admission is 120 baht (100 baht for members) for films and 80 baht (50 baht for members) for digital media.

Proceeds benefit the National Film Archive. The Week of Siam series continues through August.

Call (02) 641 5177-8 or visit

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Found at Cannes' Short Film Corner: Victim and a deal for Revenge Tragedies

The Cannes Film Festival is over and all the awards have been handed out, with nothing but mixed criticism for Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph, the lone Thai film in the festival's "official selection".

But last night, Thai news reports led me to search for more Thai films at Cannes in the online catalog of the Short Film Corner. I found a couple of them -- the animated Victim and a live-action drama called Revenge Tragedies.

The latter is the one that's been getting all the press in Thailand the past couple of days. It's a student film by Pornpatchaya Supannarat. Listed on IMDb, Revenge Tragedies is a drama about a young Asian woman (Cindy Chiu) who's left with hard choices after she's raped by her boss (Gary Daniels). It was made as a semester project for Pornpatchaya's studies at the New York Film Academy.

Sensationalized Thai media reports say her film won some sort of award, but I can't find specific details about what competition it was selected for or where the award was given.

Nonetheless, Revenge Tragedies is real, and it caught the attention of influential producer Prachya Pinkaew, who has put Pornpatchaya, or just Chaya, to work at Baa Ram Ewe production company.

There's more from Chaya in a story by Parinyaporn Pajee in today's print edition of the Daily Xpress:

Women today are stronger, but they are still made victims by society,” says the 24-year-old director, who has just graduated from the New York Film Academy. “In the West, women can often move on with their lives, but for many Asians, rape is cloaked in shame and silence.”

Prachya continues:

In the last few years, most directors’ short films have been too personal and difficult to understand whereas Pornpatchaya’s is simple but with a powerful point of view.”

According to the Revenge Tragedies profile page at the Short Film Corner, the film was an Official Finalist at the 2009 Canada International Film Festival and an Official Finalist at the 2009 Las Vegas Film Festival. It's in the lineup for the upcoming International Film Festival Thailand in Phuket.

The Daily Xpress story says Prachya has produced Pornpatchaya's second short, Unfaithfully Yours, which is another tragic-couple tale that stars Byron Bishop and Pimpan Chalaikupp.

Here's more from the Daily Xpress:

I like to present real-life stories that we don’t see often in film,” says the young director.

Though always passionate about film, Pornpatchaya fulfilled her mother’s request that she study business at the University of California for three years before moving to New York to chase her dream.

“Her first two shorts show she’s very clear sighted and determined about making Thai films for an international audience,” says Prachya.

According to Daily Xpress, Prachya now has Pornpatchaya set to direct Bot Rian Ruedu Nao (Winter Experience), a feature written by Yuthlert Sippapak that will be executive produced by Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techaratanaprasert at Sahamongkol Film International. It's described as a dark drama about two guys who grow up together but then turn against each other.

Here's more from the Daily Xpress story:

Sia Jiang approved the project a few days ago after Prachya confirmed that it wasn’t an art film.

“I told him that it’s a cross between the drama Nam Pu (The Story of Nam Pu) and the teenage romance Loke Thung Bai Hai Nai Khon Diaw (Romantic Blue),” says Prachya.

The film is expected to be finished by next year.

Also in the Short Film Corner was Victim, the animated short by Nattaporn Yiamchawee, which was recently featured at the Gulf Film Festival. It's about a man imprisoned in a room without doors or windows. According to the Short Film Corner website, Nattaporn's short was featured in the Le Pavillon Les Cinémas du Monde.

Update: Chaya replied to an e-mail I'd sent her, asking her for more details about the Thai media reports. In short, it was a misunderstanding, she says. In fact, her film hadn't been entered in any competitions in Cannes, but she had received many compliments.

I am now being interviewed in many places and I am trying my best to spread the word that it was a compliment from people who have seen my film in Cannes, not an award.

(Photo from Revenge Tragedies via IMDb)

Another film festival set for Phuket

The International Film Festival Thailand (IFFT) is set for Phuket from July 14 to 19.

It is organized by AMRITSA, the Academy of Media Radio Interactive Television and Stage Arts, which organizes several film festivals around the world.

There aren't many other details on the festival website. There is a selection of films, but I'm not familiar with any of them.

This is obviously different than the now-canceled Phuket Film Festival, which was to be held next month.

Update: The deal with this very small "film" festival is that filmmakers submit their work to Amazon's Without a Box digital video system, and the works are then taken from there, burned on DVD and shown in a hotel meeting room.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Nonzee Nimibutr on Asian New Talent jury at Shanghai fest

Thai filmmaker Nonzee Nimibutr is part of the jury for the Asian New Talent Award at the 12th Shanghai International Film Festival.

The Asian New Talent panel will be headed by South Korean filmmaker Im Kwon-taek and also includes Chinese actress Yu Nan, Chinese director Zhu Wen and Singaporean director Royston Tan.

The Asian New Talent competition films are:

  • Days with You, directed by Amiy Mori, Japan
  • Prince of Cockfighting, directed by Yeng Grande, Philippines
  • Vacation, directed by Kadoi Hajime, Japan
  • A Wednesday, directed by Neeraj Pandey, India
  • Be Calm and Count to 7, directed by Ramtin lavafipour, Iran
  • Scandal Makers, directed by Hyeong-Cheol Kang, South Korea
  • The Days, directed by Boi Kwong, Singapore
  • Jalainur, directed by Zhao Ye, China
  • Walk to School, directed by Peng Jia Huang and Peng Chen, China

Shanghai's main international Golden Goblet competition will be judged by a panel headed by Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle, with filmmaker Huang Jianxin, actress Andie MacDowell, director Andrew Lau, director Xavier Koller, actress Komaki Kurihara and producer Oh Jung-wan.

The 12th Shanghai International Film Festival runs runs from June 13 to 21.

Update: Screen Daily and Variety have articles on the jury selection.

(Via EastDay, photo via The Nation by Kunlaphun Sirimamporn)

Cannes '09: Brillante Mendoza wins best director

Filipino director Brillante Mendoza won the Best Director Award at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival -- a triumph for the independent filmmaker and his latest work, the dark crime drama Kinatay.

The choice raised eyebrows, as Kinatay, which means "slaughter" or "massacre" in Tagalog, had been mostly panned by critics.

Mendoza's prize was presented by another uncompromising filmmaker, Terry Gilliam, whose latest work, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, screened out of competition.

It's a historic first win at Cannes by a Filipino director, yet Mendoza says he doesn't expect any government support for his work, and commercial prospects are pretty slim as well.

Mendoza was in Cannes for the third year in a row. Last year his Serbis, a gritty, literally blistering drama about a family that runs a porn cinema, was in the main competition and similarly polarized critics. In 2007, his Foster Child was in the Directors' Fortnight. Aside from Mendoza, the only other Filipino director to compete in the main competition at Cannes was Lino Brocka, back in the 1980s. Also back in the '80s, Mike De Leon had films screened in a Parallel Section program.

Kinatay stars Coco Martin as a young gangster who is caught up in the murder, rape and mutilation of a prostitute. "This is not just entertainment, these kinds of stories are real," Mendoza had told the press earlier during the festival.

Other prizes went to films that had been tipped as favorites: The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke won the Palme d'Or, A Prophet by Jacque Audiard won the runner-up Grand Prix and Wild Grass by Alain Resnais won a Special Jury Prize. Jury Prizes also went to Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold and Thirst by Park Chan-wook. Chinese director Lou Ye, defying a ban on filmmaking by the Chinese government, won best screenplay for Spring Fever.

The Palme d'Or jury was headed by French actress Isabelle Huppert, with actresses Asia Argento, Shu Qi, Sharmila Tagore and Robin Wright Penn, directors Nuri Bilge Ceylan, James Gray and Lee Chang-dong and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi.

The Hollywood Reporter has more.

In the Un Certain Regard competition, the top prize went to Dogtooth by Yorgos Lanthimos, with a Jury Prize to Police, Adjective by Corneliu Porumboiu and Special Prizes for No One Knows About Persian Cats by Bahman Ghobadi and Father of My Children by Mia Hansen-Love.

IndieWire has the complete list of winners.

Another Filipino film, Independencia by Raya Martin, and Nymph by Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang had made their premieres in the Un Certain Regard program. A third Filipino feature, Martin's and Adolfo Alix Jr.'s Manila, was shown in a special screening.

Two Southeast Asian directors made their feature-film debuts in the Director's Fortnight -- Malaysia's Chris Chong with Karaoke and Singaporean director Ho Tzu-Nyen with HERE. They were nominees for the Camera d'Or award for first-time directors.

Update: Something to Sing About has more coverage of Mendoza's triumph, and Critic After Dark has commentary.

(Photo via Yahoo! News/AP, Matt Sayles)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Trailer for Krasue vs. Pop

Curious to see just how bad Krasue vs. Pop (Krasue Fad Pop, กระสือฟัดปอบ) might be, I went searching for the trailer.

And, holy crap.

Set in a rural village, the comedy features two of Thailand's top female ghosts -- the Krasue and Pop -- in a face off. Krasue, the floating vampiric head that is featured in the folklore of many of the region's countries, is played by none other than Intira Jaroenpura -- she's gone from playing the ghost wife Mae Nak in one of the most revered depictions of that famous ghost story to this.

Prangwalai Tepsatorn plays Pop, a malevolent spirit who dines on filth and bloody entrails.

Plus there's the usual cast of comedians. It's being released by 5 4 3 2 1 Action Films and was in cinemas on Thursday, but it's not playing anywhere with English subtitles.

The trailer is at YouTube and I've embedded it below. Watch it if you dare.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Review: Saranair Haao Peng (Saranair the Movie)

  • Directed by Nareubadee Wetchakam
  • Starring Pongpit Preechaborisutkun, Seksan Rattanaponpít, Ruengrit "Willy" McIntosh, "Ple" Nakorn Silachai, "Sena Hoi" Kiattisak Udomnak, Kotee Aramboy, Baby V.O.X. Re.V. (Ahn Jin-gyeong, Yang Eun-ji, Hwang Yeon-gyeong, Oh Min-jin, Park So-ri), Yuenyong "Ad Carabao" Opakul, Petchtai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkamlao
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 30, 2009
  • Rating: 3/5

The biggest prank pulled by the practical-joke reality TV series Saranair Haao Peng (สาระแนห้าวเป้ง) is on us. It's not comedy. It's a tragedy that this passes for entertainment.

And therein lies the value of Saranai Haao Peng -- it is a documentary artifact of the abysmal state of popular culture, in which 90 minutes of hidden cameras and handheld video footage of juvenile antics can be made into a feature film.

In coming to the big screen, the 11-year-old TV series that stars soap-opera idol Willy McIntosh and the fearless, often nearly naked comedians Ple and Sena Hoi, turns the cameras on itself, becoming a self-sustaining, perpetual-motion machine. Often, it is difficult to know where the pranks end and the "reality" begins. Perhaps it is all just one big prank. I've never watched the actual TV show, so I don't really know.

For the movie, the host trio is auditioning two new staff members, a couple of young men -- the hipster dude Starbucks (Pongpit Preechaborisutkhun) and the bespectacled geek Lung Lens (Seksan Rattanaponpít). In order to be hired as "creatives", the pair must orchestrate pranks on celebrities -- comedian Kotee Aramboy, the South Korean girl group Baby V.O.X. Re.V, country-folk singer Ad Carabao and comedian Mum Jokmok.

The genius of the stunts is that they reveal a bit of the real personalities of the victims.

Kotee comes off as a genuinely nice guy, who agrees to leave a temple fair where he was performaing and ride on the back of a motorbike to visit a young woman's grandmother, who is said to be a big fan. It turns out to be the ride of Kotee's life, as he finds he's fallen in with a motorbike gang, is involved in a police shootout and is then haunted by a giant ghost. As seen in the previews, the rotund cherub-like comic was so terrified, he actually cried. But he's a good sport about it, and he also has a chance to get even with the Saranair crew.

The Korean girl group Baby V.O.X. Re.V are very appealing and cute, and they show they can actually sing when Starbucks and Lung Lens -- posing as hosts of a local entertainment show -- get them to harmonize an a capella chorus of the Tata Young hit "I Believe". But the girls also must be a bit daft, as they didn't spot the fake mustache and sideburns worn by Willy, who was supposed to be an uptight, overprotective bodyguard. Ple was believable though, as the transgender stylist for the girls' music video shoot on the beach in Hua Hin.

The mythic reputation of songs-for-life legend Ad Carabao is enhanced in his segment, as Starbucks and Lung Lens try to infiltrate the singer's entourage. The boys first try to sell Ad some car wax, but end up being run off by Ad's hangers-on -- a gang of tough, pistol-toting Harley Davidson bikers. The boys then attend one of Carabao's concerts, selling counterfeit Carabao merchandise -- absurd buffalo-horn ballcaps and hilarious fake Lek Carabao handlebar moustaches. They are captured and given a gentle talking-to by Ad, before being scared off by a tiger that Carabao keeps around. It's a joke that doesn't get the Saranair crew anywhere, but makes Ad Carabao an even bigger legend.

The most pronounced reaction to the Saranair crew's pranks comes from Mum Jokmok, whose indignant temper tantrum over his stunt spilled over into the local media, creating a juicy controversy that no doubt helped fuel the film's popularity. Mum also comes off as a bit of a jerk, even if his anger is justified. Starbucks and Lung Lens get Mum to participate in their stunt by posing as directors of an anti-drunk driving commercial. For the final shot of their public-service message, they convince Mum to strap himself into the back seat of a beat-up taxi in a professional five-point racing harness -- never mind that in most Bangkok taxis the seat belts in the back seat are removed or are inaccessible. The taxi then takes off at breakneck speed, driving through a building and then past several exploding gas canisters before spectacularly crashing into a truck. Mum is unhurt, but visibly shaken and angry. "I could feel the heat," he exclaims. It turns out, even though he's been a sidekick to martial-arts star Tony Jaa and headlined his own action movies, he always has a stunt double. That only makes his Bodyguard movies more remarkable. He simply doesn't take risks. "I have a family," Mum declared before the prank. After the film was complete, Mum accepted an apology, calmed down and said he would have been okay with the stunt had he been clued in -- kind of like Warren Oates on the set of Stripes, being angry after he'd been dumped in a puddle of mud without prior warning.

But in Saranair, Mum's negative reaction casts a pall over the rest of the proceedings. And no explaining or apologizing by Willy, Hoy or Ple seems to have any effect. Not even their motto -- that they only pull pranks on the people they love -- seems to sway Mum.

As it turns out, the biggest victim of all -- aside from the hordes of viewers who have made Saranair Haao Peng one of the most successful Thai movies so far this year -- is Starbucks and Lung Lens. Upon signing up for this punishing and often degrading employment stunt, Starbucks and Lung Lens are installed in a camera-rigged house with a few other friends and co-workers. In between the celebrity pranks, smaller practical jokes are played on the boys -- like releasing a nest of cockroaches in the bathroom on Lung Lens.

And it's the most elaborate and drawn-out prank that is saved for Starbucks and Lung Lens at the end, when all hope is lost, their chances of landing a job seem slim and their most valued possessions are taken away.

But even then, there's no problem that laughter -- and the sight of a pair nearly naked cafe comics -- can't cure.

See also:

Related posts:

The Gig 3 goes straight to video

The third entry in Mono Film's teen-sex franchise, The Gig 3 (เดอะ กิ๊ก 3) has gone straight to video.

I was tipped off to this two weeks ago by Kconsciousness and I didn't believe it at first.

Then I was pointed to the whole movie on YouTube. I watched the first five minutes, which cleverly and crassly parodied the short skirts and button-popping uniform blouses worn by female university students, and promptly lost interest after that.

In fact, I forgot all about it until I saw the DVD (no subtitles of course) in a Mangpong shop.

Meanwhile, the YouTube video has been removed due to a "terms of service violation".

I asked around a bit, and it turns out The Gig 3 was all set for theatrical release -- it had been approved by the censors and everything -- but it was bagged at the last minute and sent directly to VCD and DVD.

"People who saw it said that it's the right decision," says a co-worker.

Word is that it was intentionally put up on YouTube temporarily as a viral-marketing campaign to promote the home-video release and the Internet provider Maxnet.

Which is kind of genius.

Directed by Theeratorn Siriphunvaraporn, this third installment comes after The Gig in 2006 and The Gig 2 the following year. The title comes from the Thai slang term for casual, no-strings-attached sexual relationships. It's sometimes transliterated as "kik".

The trailer's still at YouTube, and I've embedded it below.

(Via Deknang/Popcornmag)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cannes '09: More reviews for Nymph

As the Cannes Film Festival winds down, there are a few more reviews for Pen-ek Ratanaruang's thriller Nymph (Nang Mai).

Variety's Leslie Felperin gives an even-handed assessment of the film's commercial prospects:

"Challengingly slow-paced, much like the helmer's last two pics (Ploy, Invisible Waves) this one starts to cast a bewitching spell by its final reels, although for some the effect will be more like that of a sleeping potion. Further fest play is sure to follow, but Nymph will frolic in only a very limited way on the specialty circuit thereafter."

Thor Bee pointed to a review by Matt Bochenski at Little White Lies, who is less diplomatic, calling Nymph "the first real dud I've seen at the festival". He has nice things to say about actress "Gybzy" Wanida Termthanaporn (a pop singer making her film debut), saying she's "one of the most beautiful actresses I've ever seen". But as to the film:

"It’s fabulously shot [beginning] with an impossibly intricate 10-minute or so tracking shot through the jungle that swirls and swoops and zooms as though the camera was lighter than air ... but it’s a cold, unemotional and unengaging experience for the most part."

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee blogs that Nymph "will be a difficult sale in Thailand, given the film’s slow pacing, but the movie works as a quiet mystery and a tale of guilt and failed marriage." He also praises Gybzy's "surprisingly natural" performance. He'll have more to say as Nymph nears its July 2nd release in Thailand.

A day 8 roundup at Ion Cinema doesn't offer a review, but does have a tantalizing look at the elusive poster art.

Those reviews are in addition to the earlier roundup that included the review by Todd Brown of Twitch.

Update: I've embedded a video interview with the cast and crew of Nymph by (via Bangkok1080). Pen-ek, drolly hilarious as usual, describes his movie as “a love story between a man, a woman and a tree." Gybzy and Nopachai Jayanama answer in Thai, and I think I recognize the voice of the translator, but can't be sure. Pen-ek and director of photography Charnkit Chamnivikaipong are then interviewed and they converse in English.

Update 2: The Nang Mai movie website is fully live, with desktop wallpapers, ambient jungle noises and other cool stuff.

Update 3: Lee Marshall's review for Screen Daily is rather down on Nymph.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cannes '09: Festival notes part 5

You want me to do what?
"Gybzy" Wanida Termthanaporn and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang are featured in a series of photos in yesterday's "In Pictures" feature from Cannes on the BBC website. The shots are by Agence France-Presse's Francois Guillot, and they all aren't that goofy. Also posing for the photo call for Wednesday's screening of Nang Mai (Nymph) were Pen-ek's long-time cinematographer Charnkit Chamnivikaipong and lead actor Nopachai Jayanama. Watch their work in the trailer, if you want. More pix from the photo call are here and here and here. Bangkok 1080 comments that Pen-ek and Gybzy looked uncomfortable, and perhaps the denim-shorts-clad Gybzy did need something to cover her legs. But when the camera moves in for a close up on her face, watch out. Then it's easy to see why the singer from Girly Berry is Pen-ek's new muse. Anyway, it's nice to see the Un Certain Regard selection not being completely overshadowed by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt and the rest of the Inglorious Basterds.

Nymph a ploy
One of the first reviews I've found for Nymph comes from Todd Brown of Twitch, who seems underwhelmed. He writes: "Nymph bears roughly the same relationship to his previous film Ploy as his Invisible Waves did to Last Life in the Universe. Both Last Life and Ploy marked first forays into a new style of film, forays quickly followed up by second movements meant - at least in part - to push deeper into that style of filmmaking, with several key elements and the basic style of shooting repeated. But, unfortunately, the second shot at the new style in both Invisible Waves and Nymph is just simply not as successful as the first steps were." I didn't want to read much further than that. On Twitter, IonCinema writes: "Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Nymph (2 stars). Nice composition, love the earth and human connection theme -- just wish story wasn't hollow." I'll be keeping an eye out for a Day 8 update on the IonCinema website.

ASEAN Cinema
Kong Rithdee gives a mid-festival report in yesterday's Bangkok Post, "The Importance of Cannes" (cache). Apart from the broader issues of why the most prestigious cinema event on the planet and cinema in general are meaningful, Kong points out quite a few things, mainly about the sheer pluck and determination of Filipino directors Brillante Mendoza (Kinatay) and Raya Martin (Independencia, more reviews found here and here) who make their films with absolutely no government support or hope for commercial viability. Meanwhile, Thailand has two official booths at Cannes, from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Commerce, and just one film in the official selection, the "lean drama" Nymph by Pen-ek Ratanaruang. (But is he getting any support from those booths? Update: Kong reports on his blog that Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Polabutr attended the screening of Nymph and left right after.) Yet Thailand looms large for the region's film industry. The Singaporean movie HERE by Ho Tzu Nyen in the parallel Directors' Fortnight "more than likely contains footage of the anti-Thaksin street protest in Bangkok in 2006." Have to find out why. Chris Chong's Karaoke in the Directors' Fortnight was shot on a Malaysian palm plantation "by a Thai cinematographer" (Tropical Malady lensman Jarin Pengpanitch) and cut by a Thai editor (Lee Chatametikool) in Bangkok (check out the trailer at Twitch. Oh hey, there's one of my favorite actresses: Mislina Mustapha.) Kong continues: "What's quite certain however, is that Karaoke -- as well as other Southeast Asian titles -- won't secure a theatrical release in [Bangkok], a pity, since there are many cultural opportunities if the countries in the region work more closely, especially when ASEAN cinema has proved to enjoy a healthier status than the ASEAN economy (or ASEAN summit, that is)."

Right Beyond in Cannes
In a story a couple of days ago, the Associated Press surveys the Asian scene at Cannes. The article quotes Rattikorn Prichavongwaikul of Right Beyond, which is shopping its Thai-Taiwanese horror co-production The Fatality and other titles: "I think it's opening up," Rattikorn said of the market outlook this year, despite the global financial crisis. "I'm in this business for 10 years, and we used to come to buy. Now we have a stand to promote our own films. Now when we make films we are not just thinking of the domestic market. We're thinking internationally as well. We've been here three or four years and it's picking up every year."

Right Royal
Princess Ubolratana is in Cannes. She attended the Marche du Film. The Royal News Blog has the Princess speaking at the Thailand Film Gala Press Conference. There are more photos. Toronto International Film Festival programmer Colin Geddes Tweeted about attending "a cocktail for Thai royalty". During the gala press conference, an announcement was made about the Thailand Entertainment Expo, set for September 10 to 20, put on by the Commerce Ministry and the Department of Export Promotion. The expo was first held last year in tandem with the Bangkok International Film Festival. Update: Bangkok 1080 links to a story about the Princess' appearance at Cannes. Inspired by Angelina Jolie, the Princess is working on more films to follow up her Where the Miracle Happens: The action film My Bodyguard, the historical drama The Legend of the Queen and Oriental Eyes, filming in Switzerland.

William Shatner beaming in as plans firm up for World Comedy Film Festival

Actor William Shatner will be among the guests at the World Comedy Film Festival, which is set for Bangkok from June 10 to 16. Shatner's gift for comedy can be seen in such Star Trek episodes as "The Trouble With Tribbles". He's never shied away from making fun of his own persona as well as Star Trek fans. He's also been parodied countless times.

Other guests will be Eric Roberts -- another actor with a gift for camp and self parody -- as well as comic actress Brittany Daniel and Singaporean comedian and filmmaker Jack Neo.

Since being first mentioned in January, the World Comedy Film Festival has suffered many delays. It was first scheduled for the end of April or early May. When the rescheduled fest was again announced, the dates overlapped with the now-canceled Phuket Film Festival.

The fest is sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and organized by the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, but it's being programmed by Chalida Uabumrungjit of the Thai Film Foundation.

Daily Xpress has the details in a story today:

[T]he festival offers a variety of comedy styles very different from those in Thai cinema.

“Foreign countries have many concepts of comedy while Thai films really have only one popular comedy genre,” Chalida notes.

From romantic comedy to madcap, food, wedding, satirical and classic slapstick, the festival features films from all over the world.

The retrospective will focus on talented Singaporean Jack Neo, who’s done everything from scriptwriting to acting and directing. Three of his movies will be screened: Money No Enough, Money No Enough 2 and his latest work Love Matters. Neo will also attend the festival.

Ten Thai films have been selected for the Chronology of Siamese Humour category featuring work by such comedians as Lor Tok, Chusree Mesommon, Thep Thianchai and Teng Terdterng. Among them will be the 1950s feature Sao Dao Tiem featuring Amara Assawanon, Chusree Mesommon and Dokdin Kanyamarn.

Other classics will be screened, among them the 1970s comedy Theppabutr Ta Ting Nong, starring the comic trio of Den Dokpradu, Der Doksadao and Thep Pho-ngam.

“There are problems with the film’s soundtrack but we are working on it so as to be able to show it at the festival,” says Chalida.

The opening and closing films have yet to be confirmed, though the organizers are hoping to open with Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham's latest film, the Singaporean romantic comedy The Wedding Game starring Singaporean celebrity couple Fann Wong and Christopher Lee.

Singapore's Loo Zihan in Bangkok

Singaporean actor and filmmaker Loo Zihan will be on hand for a screening some of his films in Loo Zihan Is a Film-Maker on Saturday, May 23 at Democrazy Theatre Studio in Bangkok.

Zihan is perhaps best known for his role in Ekachai Uekrongtham's Pleasure Factory as the young soldier who's taken to Singapore's Gayleng brothels to lose his virginity. He's an accomplished filmmaker as well, making his debut feature in 2007 with Solos, which he co-directed with Kan Lume.

On Saturday, he'll show the short films Autopsy, Untitled and Sophia Raffles. He'll also show an unfinished rough cut of his latest short, Threshhold.

Saturday's event is organized by director Thunska Pansittivorakul and The venue is on Soi Sapankoo, off Rama IV Road, near Lumpini subway station, exit 1. The showtime is at 7.30pm. Admission is free, but the place only has 80 seats, so reservations are recommended. Call (086) 759 7112.

(Via Bangkok News and Reviews)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

International sales trailer for Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's new thriller Nymph (Nang Mai) is screening at the Cannes Film Festival today. It's competing in the Un Certain Regard program.

I'm looking for reviews, though I really don't want to read them. Luckily, I haven't found much yet. I did find an international trailer at YouTube from Fortissimo sales. I've only half watched it, but the glimpses I've caught are simply gorgeous. It's embedded below.

I have a feeling that Nymph is going to be compared to Apichatpong Weerasethakul's jungle love story Blissfully Yours as well as his Tropical Malady.

There is also an article on the Nymph page at the Cannes Film Festival website. Here it is:

For the first time in his career, young Thai filmmaker Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, selected by Directors Fortnight on two occasions, in 2002 for Monrak Transistor and in 2007 for Ploy, is presenting one of his films at Un Certain Regard. Nymph is a supernatural love story which takes us to a place in the jungle where, once upon a time, a maiden was ravished by two men. Some days later, the men's bodies were found in the waters of a nearby river, drifting with the current, but no one ever found out what had happened to the poor young woman, or who or what might have saved her life…

"Although it is a ghost story," Ratanaruang comments, the film can't be categorized as a horror movie. It is simply tinged with mystery. An unusual love story, it is sort of a transposition of an Edgar Allan Poe short story to a contemporary context. Nymph tries to explore the spiritual side of human nature. In many films, phantoms are evil creatures. But I didn't want to take that path. Here, it is the living humans who have something diabolical inside. All you have to do is think of the horrible things we are capable of doing to each other in real life. Would the ghosts do anything nearly as bad? I don't think so."

Tantalizing without giving away too much.

The movie stars "Gybzy" Wanida Temthanaporn from the pop group Girly Berry and Nopachai Jayanama.


Nonzee sentenced for drunken driving

Filmmaker Nonzee Nimibutr is going to need someone to drive him around after a court sentenced him yesterday to seven days in jail and suspended his driver's license for six months.

The sentence stems from charges after an arrest on April 11 when Nonzee's black Mercedes CLK 230 sideswiped a taxi. Police said his blood-alcohol level measured at 300 milligrams per millilitre. The legal limit is 50 milligrams.

The Nation/Daily Xpress has more:

"I had to drive home after a party to celebrate Khan Kluay II taking 80 million baht at the box office," said Nonzee, who voiced the character of the Hongsa king in the animated movie. "I am so sorry," he added.

The affair is especially embarrassing to Nonzee as he was once presented a "No Drunk Driving" campaign. He was previously caught drunk driving in 2003.

"As a repeat offender, he does not qualify for a suspended sentence," the court said.

The story also says Nonzee's sentence was reduced from 14 days detention after he "provided useful testimonies." I'm not sure what that means.

Nonzee, the veteran director of such films as Nang Nak, Daeng Bireley's and the Young Gangsters and Jan Dara, plans to appeal the verdict and has been released on 30,000 baht bail.

His latest film was last year's historical pirate epic, Queens of Langkasuka, which he worked on for more than three years and had hoped to release in two parts, only to have it released by Sahamongkol Film International in a much-shortened version that ran just under two hours. It played to mixed reviews at overseas film festivals, but had good reception in Thailand and won awards for its lavish costumes and production design.

Last year, Nonzee was given the Silpathorn Award, a Culture Ministry honor given to contemporary artists who are considered to be in their mid-career.

Update: The Bangkok Post's Mae Moo Sunday gossip column has a bit more (cache):

[Nonzee], who was given a suspended jail term on his last drink-driving conviction a few years ago, is repentant.

"I regret what happened, but I am sure my fans will understand why it was important for me to take my own car rather than a taxi that night. I was invited to many functions, and a car was simply more convenient."

The Queens of Langkasuka director, who intends to appeal, is out on bail.

"I want the court to reconsider the sentence. I don't want to just sit around for seven days. How about getting me to front another advertisement, free of charge, on the dangers of drink-driving?"

Will the court really consider that?

(Photo via Kom Chad Luek)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cannes '09: Festival notes part 4

Five Star embraces the Macabre
Thailand's Five Star Production has stepped up its game as a distributor, picking up the rights to Macabre, a horror thriller produced by Singapore's Gorylah genre label (love the name, lah) and directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, a pair of Indonesians who call themselves the Mo Brothers. Screen Daily's Liz Shackleton has the news from the Cannes Film Market. It's the first time Five Star has bought a non-Thai property for distribution, and it holds the Asian rights outside of Singapore and Indonesia. Lots more about Macabre can be found at Movie Cafe. Five Star also made sales deals on its upcoming titles: Red Eagle by Wisit Sasanatieng and starring Ananda Everingham, due to start filming in August, and Slice, Kongkiat Khomesiri's crime thriller that's co-scripted by Wisit. Read the Screen Daily article for the details. (Also at Bangkok 1080.)

Cash from Singapore
Thailand take note: Here's one example of how a government supports its film industry. Singapore's Media Development Authority has established an International Film Fund, which invests in co-productions being made by overseas filmmakers and Singapore media companies. Now Hong Kong's Distribution Workshop has signed a deal to handle global sales of all the movies produced under the IFF scheme. The Hollywood Reporter and Screen Daily have stories. Want in on the deal? Applications for the IFF are being accepted, with the deadline set for July 31, 2009.

Bloody carpet
The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt rounds up all the blood and guts that have been on display in Cannes. These are movies like Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay, Antichrist by Lars von Trier, Spring Fever by Lou Ye, Mother by Bong Joon-ho and Johnnie To's Vengeance. Says Honeycutt: "And those filmmakers known for a love of violence -- Quentin Tarantino, Sam Raimi and Gaspar Noe -- haven't even screened their pictures yet!" Meanwhile, Tarantino, whose Inglourious Basterds (is that spelled correctly?) is showing the main competition, was invited to a late Sunday night dinner by Johnnie To. Surely they compared notes on their favorite Melville movies.

In the dark
Wildgrounds has posted two clips from Kinatay. So you can see some of what the critics were moaning about.

Independencia day
Filipino indie director Raya Martin is back in Cannes with his Independencia playing in the Un Certain Regard competition. It's a story of a family living in the jungle during the American occupation of the Philippines in the early 1900s. Critical reception is still a bit thin on the ground. Something to Sing About rounds up one review. It's from Howard Feinstein of Screen Daily who is generally negative, saying it's too melodramatic and too slow. Wildgrounds turned to Twitter looking for buzz about Independencia but came up with little. But they have a trailer from YouTube, which looks really cool. I went ahead and embedded it below.

Book review: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

  • Edited by James Quandt
  • Published by the Austrian Film Museum
  • Available from Wallflower Press.

Indie filmmaker and video artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul has often referred to his works as his "children". Indeed, most of his films credit him with a "conceived by" line, rather than the traditional "directed by".

A new book, covering the 38-year-old director's life and career up to now, can be considered the equivalent of Dr. Benjamin Spock's best-selling Baby and Child Care instruction manual.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is the guidebook to understanding the artist, and offers hints on your care and feeding as you watch his films.

Where did Apichatpong come from? Is his nickname "Joe" or "Joei"? Why did the opening credits of his Blissfully Yours finally roll 45 minutes into the film? Why are his movies Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century split into halves? Did he really make a movie called The Adventure of Iron Pussy? Why was Syndromes and a Century censored in Thailand?

The answers are in the book.

The 200-page volume fills a major gap in the sparse offerings of English-language reading material on Thai cinema. And it's only fitting that entire book be devoted to Apichatpong because he looms large in Thai cinema history.

Editor James Quandt gives an overview of Apichatpong's life and career. There are also heavily footnoted essays from scholar Benedict Anderson, art curator Karen Newman and critics Kong Rithdee and Tony Rayns.

The first chapter, "Two Letters", is by cultural critic Mark Cousins and firebrand actress Tilda Swinton. The two trade thoughts about Apichatpong, both having been severely bitten by his bug after they saw Tropical Malady (Sud Pralad) at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, where it won a jury prize.

One of the most valuable chapters is by Apichatpong himself: "Ghosts in the Darkness". Apichatpong recalls his childhood growing up in Khon Kaen town. His parents were doctors. Some of his most cherished memories are of going to the cinema.

It's as much a history of him and how he became enamored by movies as it as a history of Thai cinema. He cites 1978's disaster movie Paendinwipayoak by Sompot Saengduenchai as a major influence, as well as 1979's romantic melodrama Plae Kao by Cherd Songsri.

Quandt gives a blow-by-blow of each of Apichatpong's features, going back to his 2000 debut, the black-and-white "exquisite corpse" documentary Mysterious Object at Noon (Dokfa Nai Meuman).

Mysterious Object became a cliche that film critics used to describe Apichatpong's work. Then his next feature Blissfully Yours (Sud Sanaeha) won the Un Certain Regard competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002.

From then on, "blissful" was term cropped up often in writing about the filmmaker's work.

Connections are pointed out, like a blue umbrella from Blissfully that pops up elsewhere, or the corpse of a man, clad only in underwear briefs, who's seen in Tropical Malady but was very much alive in an earlier movie.

There's also a survey and lots of images from his dozens of shorts, loops and video installations for art galleries -- his real bread and butter since feature films are costly endeavors.

His first short, 1994's 0016643225059, was inspired by phone calls he made to his mother while he was studying at the Art Institute of Chicago.

One of his most recent, the chilling horror documentary Vampire, was commissioned last year for a Louis Vuitton traveling exhibit. It was shown recently as part of the "Bangkok … Bananas!!" arts festival.

Another short is Mobile Men, made last year for the United Nations for its 22-segment Stories on Human Rights. It was shown recently in Bangkok as well, and you can watch that one on YouTube.

Despite his gentle, thoughtful nature, Apichatpong is an uncompromising, polarising figure in world cinema and in Thai society. The book offers insights as to why.

Best still to come?

After enduring the censorship of his Syndromes and a Century, Apichatpong Weerasethakul has embarked on his most ambitious and political project yet –- Primitive, a multi-platform work that includes a large-scale gallery installation, at least two short films and an eventual feature.

The work is set in Nabua, a village in Nakhon Phanom province that in the 1960s was the epicentre of violent anti-communist purges by the government.

Apichatpong worked with teenage male descendants of the victims of the battles in forming his tale, which blends the story of a widow ghost with the pioneering protoscience-fiction cinema of Georges Méliès.

“Primitive is about reincarnation and transformation. It’s a reincarnation of presence (and absence). It’s also a reincarnation of cinema as a means of transportation as it was in the time of Méliès,” Apichatpong writes on the Animate Projects website.

It’s part of what his European backers are calling “the Year of Apichatpong”, that had Primitive exhibiting in Munich until May 17. It goes to Liverpool's FACT gallery from September 25 to November 29.

A short film, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, is touring the festivals, recently picking up two awards in Oberhausen. Another short, Phantoms of Nabua, can be viewed online at

There’s hope that a smaller-scale Primitive exhibition will come to Bangkok.

Future projects for Apichatpong include a video essay on Japanologist and film critic Donald Richie. Long term, Apichatpong and actress Tilda Swinton are e-mailing each other about a collaboration that will surely result in something beautiful and strange.

(Cross-published in The Nation on Sunday. Photo for The Nation by Ekkarat Sukpetch. Also thanks to Kriangsak Tanjerjarad for scan of book cover. And a big thanks to Apichatpong Weerasethakul for the gift of his book.)